Spring Flowers and the Suwannee River

It’s been two years since our last visit to Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs. During that stay we did a lot of exploring around the park, the town of White Springs, and nearby Big Shoals State Park. I posted about those adventures at  Way Down upon the Suwannee River.

We returned to the park this February. The carillon tower is a focal point in the park and one of my favorite things about being there is hearing the the bells from the carillon chime on the quarter hour and hearing Stephen Foster’s music throughout the day.  Unfortunately, the carillon wasn’t working this year.

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The carillon at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center

We didn’t visit the museum on this trip but there are interesting exhibits about Stephen Foster and his many songs.

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Stephen Foster Museum

Even though it was only February there were some beautiful spring blooms. Gotta love Florida!

One day we took a drive to Suwanee River State Park near Live Oak to check it out. High on the banks above the Suwanee River, we enjoyed a walk on an easy trail to the confluence of the Suwanee and Withlacoochee Rivers. Beside the trail were relics from riverboats that once traveled up and down the river.

We enjoyed wonderful views from an overlook at the confluence of the two rivers.

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Confluence of Suwanee and Withlacoochee Rivers
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Bridges over the Suwanee River
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Withlacoochee River

After our walk we sat on a wooden swing overlooking the Suwanee River enjoying a picnic lunch. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Historic Silver Springs

Tourists have been traveling to Silver Springs to see the crystal clear water since the early 1800’s. One of Florida’s first tourist attractions, the first glass bottom boat tours began in the late 1870’s. During the 1900’s the attraction grew to include a jungle cruise and animal exhibits.

Silver Springs was a popular filming location for Hollywood during the 1900’s. Some of the films shot there include several Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller, the 1954 version of Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Moonraker (a James Bond movie). It was also a location for the TV series Sea Hunt. Some of the sets still exist around the property.

In 1971, Silver Springs was named a National Natural Landmark. Today, Silver Springs State Park is owned and operated by the state of Florida. The state operates the famous glass bottom boats now but there are no more jungle cruises. Visitors can walk beside the springs or sit in one of the rocking chairs to enjoy the view. There are boardwalks and trails as well as a boat launch area with canoe and kayak rentals.

This is one of our favorite Florida state parks and we wanted to spend a few days there to unwind after the excitement of the Daytona 500. We were able to reserve our favorite campsite and I was glad to see it hadn’t change much. There was gopher tortoise hole right next to the campsite just like I remembered and the resident tortoise paid us a visit our first night.

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Gopher Tortoise by our campsite at Silver Springs State Park

One day we drove over to the main entrance of the park for a ride on one of the famous glass bottom boats. Captain Oscar has been working at Silver Springs since the early 1960’s and had lots of interesting stories about the park.

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Entering Florida’s Silver Springs park
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Glass bottom boat at Silver Springs
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Captain Oscar has been working at Silver Springs since the early 1960’s

After the boat tour we wandered around the path next to the springs before taking a walk on the boardwalk trail.

Another day we rented a kayak for a beautiful paddle on the Silver River.

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Kayaking the Silver River at Silver Springs
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Although there are no more jungle cruises, this fort built for the attraction is still standing
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Quiet and peaceful along the Silver River

I felt like I was in one of the old Tarzan movies as I walked along the river trail near the campground.

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Back in the 1930s during the day of the Jungle Cruise boat ride, the operator of the ride brought in a group of wild rhesus monkeys to use as part of the attraction. Not knowing they could swim, he left them on one of the islands beside the Silver River. When he later returned to the island he was surprised to see they were gone. The monkeys are still living in the area and are often seen by visitors.

Although we didn’t see any of the monkeys on this visit, we saw many of them when we kayaked down the Silver River in 2009.

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Wild Rhesus Monkey along the Silver River in 2009
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We spotted this baby Rhesus Monkey beside the river in 2009. He must be all grown up now.

The monkeys can be very aggressive at times. All around the park are signs warning about the danger of feeding the monkeys. Now where else in the United States would you see a sign like this?

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Monkeys in Florida?

 

Daytona Speedweeks and the Great American Race

Henry and I have only been following NASCAR for two years. Ever since the first time we watched the Daytona 500 on TV in 2016 I knew I wanted to go. So this year we went. And it was even more fun than I thought it would be.

NASCAR stands for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. The biggest race of the year is at the beginning of the NASCAR season. Every February, the Daytona Speedweeks is held at the Daytona International Speedway. The Daytona 500 – the Great American Race- ends a fun filled week of entertainment on the midway and qualifying races for the Daytona 500 as well as two other NASCAR races.

We arrived in Daytona on Thursday afternoon. During the next few days we went to three races, drove along A1A on the way to lunch at Racing’s North Turn restaurant in Ponce Inlet, had lunch at Caribbean Jack’s on the Intercoastal waterway, watched the Thunderbirds practice, and didn’t have time to catch our breath until Monday morning.

Our first NASCAR race was the Can-Am Duel on Thursday night. Here’s a short video to give you an idea of how fast these cars are going and how loud they are.

Our second race was Camping World Truck Series race on Friday night. We arrived at the track early so we could wander around the midway to see some of the exhibits and do a little shopping. We entered the grandstands with plenty of time to walk around for different views of the track.

The trucks were fast and loud and the race was exciting. A great way to spend a Friday night!

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Panoramic view of Daytona Speedway from near start-finish line
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Daytona Speedway
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Trucks lined up before the race

After two night races in a row, we decided to take it easy and skip the Saturday Xfinity series race. Instead, we watched the United States Air Force Thunderbirds practice in the morning before enjoying lunch at Caribbean Jack’s on the Intercoastal Waterway.

Sunday was the day of the 60th Daytona 500 and a long day at the track for us. We had tickets for the Fanzone so we arrived in the morning to have plenty of time to go out in the middle of the track and get up close to the pit area, see the cars, and enjoy some of  the pre-race festivities.

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A look at the stands from track level
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Cars lined up before the race

We had a great view of the whole track from our seats in the upper section. After a concert by Rascal Flatts and the driver introductions, each driver rode around the track in a pickup truck.

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The stages are set for the pre-race entertainment and driver introductions
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The cars lined up before the race

After the national anthem, the USAF Thunderbirds performed a flyover.

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U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds flyover before the race

Drivers, start your engines!

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Start/Finish line at Daytona 500
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Daytona 500
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Pit stop for Kyle Bush #18 and Joey Lagano #22
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RV’s filled the infield

The race was exciting with the lead changing several times. A huge wreck near the end of the race knocked out all of the leaders and #3 Austin Dillon was the winner.

Watching a race on tv is fun, but nothing compares to seeing it in person. I was fascinated seeing all the things that go on before the race, at how well organized and perfectly timed everything was. The sight and sound of the cars going by at almost 200 miles per hour is mind boggling. Most fans have a favorite driver and it was fun seeing them all decked out in their favorite driver’s gear.

In case you are wondering, our favorite driver is #78 Martin Truex, Jr. He was in second place until the last wreck but he did finish the race.

I’ve already made reservations at the RV park for next year!

Wandering Around America One State at a Time – Florida

State 7:

Welcome to the next post in my series highlighting states we have visited throughout the years. I hope you will enjoy coming along for the ride!

I will be featuring the states we have visited alphabetically. If you are looking for Connecticut or Delaware, we’ve never been to either of those states (except to drive through the Delmarva Peninsula without stopping) so the next state is

Florida

Florida became the 27th state on March 3, 1845. The capital is Tallahassee.

We started vacationing in Florida back in the 70’s and have traveled all around the state both before and after our RV travels began. For many years we traveled to the Florida Keys at least once a year. We’ve traveled all along the Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, to small towns and big cities, gone scuba diving and snorkeling in the beautiful coral reefs, caught many fish, boated to remote islands, visited museums and lighthouses, attended sporting events, tasted amazing seafood and key lime pie, explored two national parks and a national seashore, observed graceful birds and other wildlife, kayaked and canoed in the rivers, swam in the springs, watched many sunsets, and walked on some of America’s most beautiful beaches.

Florida is famous for it’s beautiful beaches  and theme parks.

Gulf Islands National Seashore
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Micky welcomes us to the Magic Kingdom
Mickey welcomes everyone to the Magic Kingdom at Disney World

There’s so much more to the Sunshine State than it’s beaches and theme parks.

With it’s many birds, wildlife, and beautiful landscapes, Everglades National Park is one of my favorite national parks.

Pa-Hay-Otee Overlook in Everglades National Park
Pa-Hay-Otee Overlook in Everglades National Park

The only way to get to Dry Tortugas National Park is to take a boat ride or seaplane trip from Key West.

Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park
Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park

Explore Fort Pickens and walk on miles of sugar white sand beaches in Gulf Islands National Seashore .

One of the cannons atop Fort Pickens
One of the cannons atop Fort Pickens

There are many small islands accessible only by boat. Picnic Island in the lower keys was one of our favorites.

Popular boating destination in the lower Florida Keys
Popular boating destination in the lower Florida Keys

Cedar Key is one of the small waterfront towns we love to visit.

Honeymoon Cottage, Cedar Key, Florida
Honeymoon Cottage, Cedar Key, Florida

I loved the  Art Deco buildings in South Beach Miami.

South Beach, Miami, Florida
South Beach, Miami, Florida

It’s always fun to stroll along the waterfronts.

Shrimp boats on the Appalachacola Waterfront
Shrimp boats on the Appalachacola Waterfront

There are interesting structures to discover. The Perky Bat Tower on Sugarloaf Key was built in 1929 to house bats to help control the mosquito population. Unfortunately, the bats flew away and never returned.

The Bat Tower, Sugarloaf Key
The Perky Bat Tower, Sugarloaf Key was built in 1929

The Spring House in White Springs on the Suwanee River was a huge tourist destination in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Spring House at White Springs, Florida
Spring House at White Springs, Florida

There’s a famous headstone in the Key West Cemetery.

Famous headstone in the Key West Cemetery
Famous headstone in the Key West Cemetery

U.S. Highway 1 goes from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West and we’ve been to both ends. The Southernmost Point in the continental United States is also in Key West.

Mile Marker Zero
Mile Marker Zero in Key West

The variety of birds never ceases to amaze me.

White Pelicans and Cormorants around Cedar Key
White Pelicans and Cormorants around Cedar Key
Green Heron with fish in mouth Everglades National Park
Green Heron with fish in mouth Everglades National Park
Red Shouldered Hawg Big Cypress Preserve
Red Shouldered Hawk Big Cypress Preserve

Tiny key deer, endangered gopher tortoise, manatees, and of course alligators are some of the wildlife to be found.

Key Deer
The Key Deer located around Big Pine Key are just a little bit bigger than a Labrador Retriever
Gopher Tortoise at our campsite Silver River State Park
Gopher Tortoise at our campsite Silver River State Park
Aligators along the Anhinga Trial, Everglades National Park 2012
Alligators along the Anhinga Trial, Everglades National Park 2012
Manatee in Homossassa Springs
Manatee eating a carrot in Homossassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Florida is home to beautiful springs and rivers.

Salt Springs
Salt Springs
Hillsborough River
Hillsborough River
Big Shoals on the Suwanee River
Big Shoals on the Suwanee River

Don’t forget the lighthouses.

Cape Florida Lighthouse
Cape Florida Lighthouse

Nothing better than freshly caught fish for dinner! We cooked up this grouper after one of our most memorable fishing trips many years ago.

Henry with the biggest catch of the day!
Henry with the biggest catch of the day!

Many Major League Baseball teams play their spring training games in Florida.

Atlanta Braves Spring Training at Disney's Wide World of Sports
Atlanta Braves Spring Training at Disney’s Wide World of Sports

The historic Fort Gates Ferry carries people and vehicles across the St. Johns River.

Waiting to cross the St. John's River on the Fort Gates Ferry
Waiting to cross the St. John’s River on the Fort Gates Ferry

To read previous posts about the states featured in this series just click on the state name: Alabama      Alaska      Arizona      Arkansas      California     Colorado

Best Campgrounds of the year – 2016

Welcome to our third annual “Wandering Dawgs best campgrounds of the year” list.

Our 2016 wandering took us on a short trips to Florida, Georgia,  Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.

We prefer staying in state and federal parks and this year our top three all fall into one of those categories.

Number 3: Oak Mountain State Park, Pelham, Alabama

Early Morning at Tranquility Lake
Tranquility Lake was just a short walk from our campsite

We stopped at Oak Mountain on our way to Mississippi and enjoyed it so much we returned to the same site (A28) on our way back home to Georgia.

Our site was spacious with full hook ups and nothing but woods behind us. This large state park has a golf course, archery range, equestrian camping and horse stables, nature and hiking trails, lake front beach, mountain bike trails, and scenic drives. The road through the park is a popular place for bicyclists. Nearby Pelham and Birmingham have restaurants and shopping.

View from Peavine Falls Road Overlook
View from Peavine Falls Road Overlook

Read more about our stay at First Stop on our Fall Football Road Trip .

 

Number 2: Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Fargo, Georgia

Do you see the alligator behind the Cypress tree?
Do you see the alligator behind the Cypress tree?

We love this place so much we have camped here numerous times in past 10 years. Our most recent trip was in March, 2016.

Just getting to the campground is an adventure. After turning off the highway, seventeen miles of driving through pine forests and palmettos takes you into the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It is remote, quiet, and wild.

We camp in one of the large premium pull through sites. It is a short walk or bike ride from the campground to the marina where you can go on a guided tour of the Okefenokee Swamp, rent a boat or canoe, launch your own boat, or take a walk on the nature trail through the swamp. Alligators are often seen around the marina but we’ve never seen one in the campground.

Sophie the Mama Gator
Sophie the Mama Gator

You can read more about our stay at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Number 1: Fort Pickens Campground, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida

Ready for Beach Chair Sitting on the Gulf of Mexico
Ready for Beach Chair Sitting on the Gulf of Mexico

Miles of white sugar sand beach in Gulf Islands National Seashore within walking distance from our campsite, an historic fort to explore, a nice campsite, nature trails, beautiful sunsets, fresh seafood, fishing pier, museums and a lighthouse nearby – what’s not to love?

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico
Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

Read more about our stay at Gulf Islands National Seashore .

Honorable Mention:

  • We returned to Mississippi River State Park in Marianna, Arkansas, our “Best Campground of the Year – 2014“. I left it out of the top three to make room for three new campgrounds
  • Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center, White Springs, Florida
  • Eastbank Corps of Engineers  Campground, Bainbridge, Georgia

Where do you think we will wander next year? Stay tuned…